Thoughts on Moonlight (2016)

If we define a perfect film as having no element out of place, no hint of unsteadiness in directorial control, no gap between intention and execution, then Moonlight (2016) is a perfect film. Relying on intensely naturalistic performances and situations, it somehow manages to smuggle in moments of interior lyricism without breaking the flow of the film; even the section divisions leave an impression of seamlessness, despite the fact that, by definition, they interrupt the film.

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Thoughts on Mission: Impossible—Fallout (2018)

I walked out of Mission: Impossible—Fallout (2018) still trying to catch my breath from the 147 minutes of near-relentless action. After an afternoon of thought, I had a review outlined in my head, ready to write up the next day. And then, while I slept the sleep of the just, Brian Tallerico went ahead and published a review that says most of what I wanted to say, but much, much better. In sum, this film is elevated action. Believe the hype—all of it.

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Triumph of the Capitalist Will: Metropolis (1927/2010)

Fritz Lang must be some kind of genius. He somehow made Metropolis (1927/2010), an elaborate science fiction film so costly that it bankrupted the production company, during the Weimar Republic—and it’s a classic, to boot. That the sets and effects were done before digital is simply mindboggling, as are some of the methods to achieve them, on par with a good magic trick. I saw the almost completely restored 2010 version, which still has a couple scenes missing. Some of the newly discovered footage was maltreated by the archivists, so the rediscovered parts are obvious; in fact, a lot of it is crucial to the plot and characterization, and it’s fascinating to think about how badly marred a film most of the world had been seeing before. It’s accompanied by the original score by Gottfried Huppertz, slightly embellished, which probably worked well for the (supposedly) raucous contemporary audience, but for the home viewer (me), the omnipresent brass sounds too heavyhanded.

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Thoughts on Melancholia (2011)

Opening with something rather like an art installation, Melancholia (2011), Lars von Trier’s personal masterpiece, is a mood piece, in the sense that everything is two-dimensional except for the leads who carry the mood in their respective parts of the film. In other words, the film is another Lars von Trier dark fairy tale. This is especially evident in the characterization; as Richard Brody aptly puts it, “everyone is either a shit or a doormat.” Interestingly, so are the leads when they play supporting roles.

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Thoughts on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) follows its own advice, presenting an entire world and even myth out of one incident: a bullying menace and how he got shot. The outcome is never in doubt—it’s in the title—and even the twist is extremely obvious. Hence, contrary to expectations of realist films, this western stands out for how comprehensive a town and a world it manages to build around its central event.

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The Stories That We Tell Ourselves about Telling Ourselves Stories: Burning (Beoning / 버닝 2018)

Editor’s note: This piece is technically not part of a series on the 2018 Taipei Film Festival, but as the film was shown as part of the festival, and the theatrical screening I attended was screened at the festival venue during the festival using what appeared to be the same film reel that was used for the festival, I’m including it in the series anyway.

We’ve never seen a metafictional film quite like this before. Beyond the knowingness of Deadpool (2016) and reticent where Adaptation. (2002) is giddy, Burning (Beoning / 버닝 2018) is a silk-smooth character study from acclaimed South Korean director Lee Chang-dong (who co-wrote) that morphs midway through into a Hitchcockian thriller, before ending in the realm of social commentary—if you can figure it out, that is. The filmmaking is assured to the point where long takes go unnoticed, and the impeccable pace makes the 148-minute running time feel all too short, especially given how tight the plot is, as you’ll see from the length of the plot summary below. (For an exploration of the film’s liminal mood, see Jackson Bentele’s rather dense piece at Bright Wall/Dark Room. To experience the film without actually seeing it—but why do that to yourself?—read Walter Chaw’s review here.)

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Thoughts on The Rider (2018)

Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the 2018 Taipei Film Festival.

The merits of The Rider (2018) mostly arise from its actors and subject matter, surprising not for its authenticity (it’s almost entirely based on true events) but for how telegenic (cinegenic?) these non-professional actors are. The craft evidenced by writer-director-producer Chloé Zhao is great when she improvises and adapts to the actors and situation, but less so when she has complete control—for one, there were far too many close-ups, perhaps in anticipation of the streaming market. In the mind’s impression, though, any imperfections are outweighed by the few moments of transcendence Zhao and cinematographer Joshua James Richards manage to capture: Brady (Brady Jandreau, way too young to be so convincing as a world-wearier Chris Pratt), coaxing a stallion into being broken in, riding a horse with the setting sun to their back, and whistling for his horse one last time. The horseback galloping scenes in particular are moving for how simple they are: no quick cuts or flashy angles to convey speed or excitement, just a steady tracking shot of man and horse that, already bristling with speed, shifts the focus onto this inseparable partnership from time immemorial.

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Thoughts on The Tale (2018)

If an important function of cinema is to generate empathy by placing the viewer in someone else’s shoes, The Tale (2018) is a hugely important film. For all the #MeToo skeptics out there, people who find credibility issues in accusers’ accounts, this film offers a comprehensive and convincing story that happens to explain these issues—because most of the story’s real. (For those who ask for a higher standard of proof, I offer for your consideration the difference between O.J. Simpson’s criminal trial—which he won—and civil trial—which he lost.)

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Thoughts on Our Youth in Taiwan (Women de Qingchun, zai Taiwan / 我們的青春,在台灣 2018)

Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the 2018 Taipei Film Festival, and it benefits from a post-screening Q&A with the director at this world premiere.

Our Youth in Taiwan (Women de Qingchun, zai Taiwan / 我們的青春,在台灣 2018) is a self-reflexive documentary putatively about student-led social movements in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China, but it’s actually director-editor-producer-subject Fu Yue’s memoir as a follower of popular leaders, and the whiplash that can arise. This main idea has been noted time and again in the literature, but the film dives into the experience, bringing us along with Fu as she goes from longing to sense of mission to loss to, finally, acceptance. She’s still very raw about it all, tearing up a few times during the post-screening Q&A.

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Into the Maw: Beautiful Things (2017)

Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the 2018 Taipei Film Festival; it also benefits from a post-screening Q&A with the directors.

Beautiful Things (2017) is a musical of machinic assemblage desire, a rapturous becoming-object, a euphoric celebration of accelerationism, and a vision of the role of the human in a world dominated by our technological children, who have dispensed with sentience, that cumbersome redundancy. Directed, produced, and edited by the two-man team of Giorgio Ferrero (who also wrote and helped with music and sound production) and Federico Biasin (who also shot), this wondrous documentary exploration of how humans mesh with the machinic order has impeccable production values, despite costing only 150,000 euros, employing only three other crew members, and spending only six months in production, one month of which was for editing—a process made possible wholly due to the Venice Biennale College workshop.

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